Five observations from the Hawks’ 97-96 last-second loss to the Pacers Sunday.
1. Another mistake in transition defense. The latest led to another Hawks loss. Glenn Robinson III hit a 3-pointer with .6 seconds remaining to give the Pacers the victory. The Pacers’ Jeff Teague rebounded a Tim Hardaway Jr. missed 3-pointer with 8.9 seconds remaining and his team trailing 96-94. The Pacers did not call timeout and raced up court. Teague passed to Paul George who drove to the basket. As several Hawks converged he found C.J. Miles on the perimeter. Miles touch-passed to a wide-open Robinson.
Bang. Game over.
Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard were the last two Hawks to run down court into the play. Both went to the rim. Dennis Schroder was left on the weak side guarding two players.
“The transition defense is something we talk about,” said coach Darvin Ham, who filled in for a suspended Mike Budenholzer. “Guys are scrambling. … Paul George drives the ball and Dennis is over there with two-on-one situation. We have two guys running down the middle of the floor. We have to communicate in that situation. I know it’s loud, the building is loud and going crazy, but we work on last man going weak side. Last man weak side to take away 3-point shooters. We didn’t do that. There you have it.”
The Hawks had a foul to give on the final possession but, as has been their philosophy, did not use it.
George said he knew the Hawks would converge on him.
“I got a chance to talk to the assistant (coaches),” George said. “My past possessions having the ball, that’s how they guarded me. (The coaches) were just telling me ‘You’re going to attract two (defenders). Just look weak side. I see C.J. and Glenn. Dennis Schroder had to make a decision with two shooters over there.”
2. The final shot was the game-winner. However, the Hawks led 96-90 with 1:43 remaining after Millsap scored. The Pacers scored the final seven points. The Hawks had two misses and a turnover, their 15th of the game. The Pacers got a floater from Teague and a put-back from Miles off his offensive rebound. That set up the final possession.
“Disappointing,” Millsap said of the defeat.
3. The Hawks are a poor free-throw shooting team. There is no way around that. They were 19 of 31 from the line, a 61.3 percentage. Make just one of the missed 12 attempts and they at least don’t lose in regulation.
The Hawks are 29th in the NBA in free-throw percentage at 72.4. Only the Heat at 69.8 percent are worse.
“The free-throw line, we work on those every day,” Ham said.
Howard and Millsap did most of the missing. Howard missed six attempts and Millsap missed five attempts.
4. The Hawks started strong, shooting 60 percent in the first quarter and scoring 30 points. They were dreadful in the second and third quarters. That’s when the Pacers erased a 13-point deficit and eventually took an 11-point lead. The Hawks allowed 31 points each in the second and third quarters.
“At the end of the day, there was a lot of fight that we let pass us by in the second and third quarters,” Ham said. “Not being able to get things done offensively. Lack of ball movement.”
The Hawks scored 44 points combined in the second and third quarters. They were 13 of 36 in the two periods.
“The game is played in four quarters and two of those quarters we didn’t show up,” Millsap said.
5. The Hawks finally stopped George, but it took three quarters. George finished with a game-high 34 points on 12 of 19 shooting, including six 3-pointers.
George did not score in the fourth quarter, missing all three shot attempts.
One of the keys to stopping George was a defensive switch that put Millsap on as the defender. It was a task Millsap asked for.
“It was something I asked to do,” Millsap said. “Just to put a little more pressure on him. Get a more physical guy on him. See how he reacts to that. Fourth quarter we did a good job of shutting him down.”
Thabo Sefolosha returned to guard George late in the period.
George scored 24 of the Pacers’ 50 first-half points. He was 9 of 12 from the field and one of the misses was a last-second heave at the buzzer.
“Before (putting Millsap on him) we wanted to put pressure on him in the second half, blitz him,” Ham said. “He got rid of the ball and they were able to make some plays on the weak side. We changed up the matchup putting Paul on him. Paul got after him a little bit. We decided make Dwight our (most important help guy), baseline help guy have him guard Thaddeus Young and try to funnel everyone toward him. We made it a point to get him off the 3-point line. The combination of all those things allowed us to hold him to (10 second-half) points.”